10 Free Services Onboard a Cruise That Are Easily Overlooked

Cruises were probably the first all-inclusive vacation experience. Except for tipping, if you didn’t drink alcohol, your stateroom account might be zero when the ship returns to port. More and more aspects of the ship are operated as profit centers today, but there are still plenty of freebees. Because there is so much going on simultaneously, it’s easy for these benefits to get lost in the shuffle. How many of these have you taken advantage of recently?

  1. Breakfast in your stateroom. There is usually a doorknob hanger tag on your bed before turning in. Fill out what you would like for breakfast and your preferred delivery time. My wife and I order rolls, juice and coffee every day. It beats using an alarm clock!
  2. Room service menu. You can have lunch or dinner in your cabin! There is usually a binder or book in the desk drawer. In addition to “how to use the phone” and other information, there should be a room service menu. It will vary by cruise line. Most selections should be free. Some lines might offer sandwiches and burgers, others steak and Caesar salad.
  3. Coffee and pastries. Feel like a little something in the afternoon? Most ships have a Lido deck with a buffet restaurant. Although it will be closed outside of main mealtimes, there should always be machines dispensing coffee, hot mater and selected cold beverages. There is often light food like cookies available too.
  4. Free wine. Covid has changed life onboard. At the moment, the large gatherings like the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party are still suspended. Your ship has several venues seeking to sell you things. Examples are the jewelry shop, the art gallery and possibly the casino. To attract people through their door, they often host orientations, lectures or classes in their shop or space. The advance publicity usually talks about wine or champagne. If it’s “free,” don’t expect “champagne.” It will be sparkling wine.
  5. Free maps. You want to explore on your own. You have been looking forward to this port since you booked your cruise. The cruise line does not want you getting hopelessly lost and missing the ship when it sails. The tour office or Purser’s Desk (now often called Hotel Reception) will have a stack of single sheet maps. Take one before disembarking.
  6. Water ashore. When you leave the ship in port, you might hear an announcement suggesting you bring a bottle of water ashore to stay hydrated. These personal bottles are often free. When you return to the ship, there is often a table staffed by ship personnel with iced water. This is at the foot of the gangway or the tender station.
  7. Live entertainment. When you see a show or attend a concert back home, you buy tickets to attend. Entertainment onboard is included in your cruise fare. This comes in different formats. There is likely a variety show review in the main theater. There are also bars and lounges around the ship with live music and dancing. Unlike clubs onshore, there is no cover charge or two drink minimum. They let you enjoy the music without buying drinks.
  8. Puzzles and games. People who sail like to keep their brains active. On most ships there will be a daily quiz, crossword and Sudoku. This is usually mentioned in the daily program. Sometimes people complete to see who gets the most correct answers or finishes first.
  9. Room cleaning. Unlike life back home, someone comes into your cabin, makes the bed, vacuums the floor and cleans the bathroom every morning. You hang your “please makeup my room” sign on the door when you leave for breakfast. You get turndown service too. (Technically, this is paid for through tipping.)
  10. The daily program and newspaper. Life at sea is quite detached from the outside world. The clocks change when you cross time zones. Every night someone outs the next day’s activity program under your door or on your bed. There is often a summary newspaper printed onboard showing major news stories and sports scores. This is free too.

All these items would carry a cost if you wanted them back home. They are included in your cruise fare. Some, like the daily program, are a gateway into other activities. Take advantage of everything on offer.


Ed. Note: CruiseCompete and its member travel advisors provide many curated cruise and land deals, offers and amenities on over 50 cruise lines with over 500 cruise ships sailing all around the world.

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Cover photo:  Sun Princess at Doini Island in Papua New Guinea ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews

Dennis Cox is All Things Cruise Writer and Official Photographer

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